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Susan LaMotte


The Path to Startup Culture: Q&A With Raoul Davis

Raoul DavisI saw another post today touting the great culture of a company and showcasing the office space. That's great, but a cool office does not make a culture alone. A culture is a set of values and norms that define the behavior of an organization. Sure. perks and cool chairs can be an extension of that, but you have to start with what you believe. Today we continue our series on companies not only passionate about culture but making the effort to pull that through. Our goal is to show you talent not only matters but can be the difference between success or stagnation.  This week I connected with Raoul Davis, the CEO of Ascendent Group. Raoul's on a mission to amplify the message of socially conscious firms led by visionary CEOs.  

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo (SL): You're in the business of people everyday. But can you describe your corporate culture in three words?

Raoul Davis, Ascendent Group (RD): Highly effective and human.

SL: Simple and clear--important for future employees to understand if they fit with your organization. I know it hasn't been easy, but when you have made an effort to understand and strengthen your culture, what did you learn the most?

RD: That people are resistant to change. Culture shifts take time 6-18 months to be exact and it is a continual process that has to be beaten into the culture. Just when you think it is going smooth you've got to further emphasize things again. Building a culture by design is a process, however; it is sure better than having a culture by default.

SL: Speaking of employees, what are the first three things you first notice about an employee?

RD: Their demeanor, willingness to contribute, and overall attitude.

SL: And how do you manage having the right talent to meet rapid growth?

RD: Don't limit your geographic area. Hire based on your cultural pillars and hire slowly.

SL: What have you learned about the importance of culture that you can apply to the work you do for your clients?

RD: That if you build culture then you give your clients a consistent experience. When you have people fall outside of the culture it creates a bumpy experience and creates unease with the clients.

SL: Tell me about a time you felt company leadership went wrong. What did you do?

RD: I'm actually going through a period now where I assumed the culture was fully embedded however I learned that isn't the case. So we are about to shrink to get things more focused and so I can spend more time on ensuring we have the right things happening. Also you have to accept that when there is a leadership issue the person to look at is the one in your mirror. When your team fails don't point the finger. Figure out what you can do better to help them continue to mature. Entrepreneurship isn't easy, people make mistakes; even the most well intentioned and experienced people make errors. Prepare to have some grace but at times you'll have to adjust or fire quickly. 

SL: So at the end of the day, why does talent + culture fit matter?

RD: You can have a bunch of high performers and not win the championship. Just ask the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers or most of the NY Yankees teams over the past ten years. Despite consistently having one of the most highest payrolls in professional sports [they] have only won one championship. A team has to come together, be cohesive, and all work in the same direction with egos being put aside for the greater good. It takes culture to do that. Without culture by design you get culture by default and that doesn't win championships.

Raoul Davis is the CEO of Ascendent Group help mid size leading companies increase their top line revenue through a unique process called CEO branding. We help the CEO increase their visibility through PR, speaking engagements, book deals, social media, and strategic networking directly in front of their target audience. Learn more about Ascendent Group.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.




The Path to Startup Culture: Q&A with Roundtable Companies' Corey Blake


At exaqueo, we’ve always believed that the earlier you define your culture, promote that culture –the good and the bad – and hire to it, the more effective the role talent can play in your growth.

Today we’re continuing our series on companies not only passionate about culture but making the effort to pull that through. Our goal is to show you talent not only matters but can be the difference between success or stagnation.

This week I sit down with Corey Blake, President of Roundtable Companies, a storytelling and publishing company that develops and distributes books that change the world.

Susan LaMotte. exaqueo (SL): You’ve had a [excuse the pun] storied career. And now as a company founder, you’re paying close attention to the careers of others. In your mind, why does talent and culture fit matter?

Corey Blake, Roundtable Companies (CB): Talent alone can be a disaster. We actually hire based on culture fit more than anything because there is plenty of talent available. The combination of the two sets the stage for us all to pull the rope in the same direction and create work that matters.

SL: It’s always surprising when you find diversity of talent with similar behaviors. As you’ve gone through this process to understand and strengthen your culture, what have you learned the most?

CB: Investments in culture require faith because they produce results that can often be difficult to measure. But every time we invest in culture, we generate more happiness among our people who then turn around and serve our customers with more enthusiasm, dedication, and brilliance. Lesson learned: investing in culture requires a leap of faith.

SL: That leap of faith isn’t always perfect though, right? Tell me about a time you felt company leadership went wrong. What did you do?

CB: As the CEO, I was handling too much of the day-to-day operations earlier this year. But as an entrepreneur, I'm not best suited to management. I was cranky and financial fluctuations gave me anxiety that I spread all over. My other executive team members sat me down and we had some tough conversations on how to make the necessary shifts so that I wasn't infusing our culture with fear and anxiety.  Our conversations around my anxiety resulted in us making a major shift. We moved me out of operations and our VP moved into the COO role. He is steadfast and our staff responds to him beautifully. That shift gave our staff more comfort (because I am too much of a roller coaster), while it freed me up to get back to my own zone of genius which is being an entrepreneur and building something new. Since then I have spearheaded the launch of our community. An all around win.

SL: Now that you have the right foundation, what will you do to grow the company you want to grow?

CB: At this point, our staff and systems are working at a high level. Our future growth will come from exposure of our work through our new community. We feel we are one of the best-kept secrets in the business world and the world of storytelling, so our growth will come through the use of a bullhorn and inspiring people to share the work we're engaged in.

SL: Looking back, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs about starting a company?

CB: At all costs remain true to your word. And do what is right, regardless of the cost. Become known for your integrity. You'll learn some painful lessons that force you to spend large amounts of money to remedy, but that will teach you how to hire the right people, how to care for your customers, and how to build systems that support doing things the right way and to an incredibly high standard. That will in turn sell your business.

SL: Well said. Thanks for your time Corey!

Corey Blake is the President of Roundtable Companies. He has been storytelling for almost two decades since he graduated from Millikin University with a BFA in Theatre in 1996. Learn more about Corey and Roundtable Companies.

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.



Culture Defined: Client Q&A with ORS Partners

photo3Every startup knows that culture is important, but it often takes a pivotal moment, challenge or obstacle for founders and leadership teams to realize it's time to focus.  We're so busy shipping code, getting product out the door or sourcing new customers we forget that it's people building the business. We love helping clients come to this realization, and ORS Partners was no different.  An outsourced recruiting solutions firm based outside Philadelphia, PA, ORS has energized employees and a strong growth trajectory. But they had the moment--the realization that if they didn't harness the energy now, their growth wouldn't happen in an aligned, bottom-line-driving way.

I sat down with exaqueo client Kate Brewer, ORS Partners' Marketing Manager to talk about why they decided to finally focus on culture and the results of their business-changing process.

Susan LaMotte, exaqueo: What was the driver for a renewed focus on culture at ORS Partners?

Kate Brewer, ORS: Eighteen months into our existence as a company, we were – are – growing rapidly and onboarding new people every month, but needed to define who we are and what our mission is. We had been “running and gunning” as a start-up organization, but needed to take a step back as a leadership team and make sure our employees knew what direction we are headed. We had to put clarity around our business and what we stand for.

SL: When you made the effort to understand and strengthen your culture, what was your biggest learning?

KB: Our leadership team realized that we all understood and we could articulate our Mission, Vision, and Values, but we failed to communicate them effectively to our team. We knew our employees possessed all the qualities needed for success, but we realized we needed to better communicate the larger plan to make sure every employee felt engaged and empowered to do so. With a clear Mission, Vision, and set Values we are able to articulate our goals and tie all of our initiatives back to our core values.

SL: You're in the business of helping others hire. What have you learned about the importance of culture that you can apply to the work you do for your clients? 

KB: Culture-fit is everything. No matter how many credentials a candidate may have, if they do not mesh with company culture, they will not be successful long-term. We have always preached to our clients that they hire ORS to not hire candidates, just as much as they hire ORS to hire candidates. Our consultants are trained to identify culture-fit – one of first steps in client onboarding is for our consultants to learn and understand client culture and assimilate.

SL: ORS will continue to grow in the coming year. As you do your own hiring, based on what you learned, what kind of employees are most successful in the ORS culture?

KB: Through this exercise we have found that our employees are self-motivated individuals who thrive on watching their client companies achieve talent acquisition success with their support. Even more so, ORS employees are team players – we are not recruiters on an island, but members of a large team backed by leadership and account management, a strong sourcing center, an employee led learning and development platform, and a toolkit of resources and technologies that help us reach success more efficiently and effectively.

SL: How does culture fit affect recruiting? Now that you've defined the ORS culture more clearly, how will that enable you to hire more effectively?

KB: As all good professionals in our industry know, recruiting is more than matching a candidate’s skillset to a job description. ORS Partners recruitment consultants are helping clients attract the right talent that will help their businesses grow and develop. Essentially, ORS Partners is a company building business… and without understanding culture fit, we would not be able help take our client companies to the next level with the addition of human capital. Businesses succeed when the right group of people with the right personalities and right skills work together to create products, services, and solutions. Now that we have defined our own culture more clearly, we believe we will be able to hire the right group of people with the right skills – with personalities and goals that complement the organization’s characteristics and goals – to take our business to the next level.


exaqueo is a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.


ORS Partners, LLC is a provider of Outsourced Recruiting Solutions (ORS), and is comprised of top professional recruiters hired to build and scale emerging growth, middle-market, and venture-backed companies along with Fortune 1000 companies.



Thursday Lunch Break: Listen to Your Content

Work or work out? That is the question. Ever since I was little, I've been active in some way. I took ballet for 15 years and played lacrosse, field hockey, tennis and softball in school.  As an adult, I've made a failed attempt at marathon training (thanks left knee for the fun surgery) and now practice yoga, play golf, ski, and do strength training. I try to get in some sort of activity every, single day.  

But an hour in the gym or outside can feel really wasted. Even though I know it's good for me I'm always thinking I should be working or learning. (I know, I know.)  So I was intrigued when I heard about Guide. Turning my news into sound? From an avatar? I hate sci-fi (my husband watches Battlestar Gallactica all alone) and quite frankly, it sounded weird. But think about what this means for how we consume content. Crazy right?

So curious what you think. You've got to check this out:



exaqueo is a human resources consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to grow in the right way.



We're Proud to Be Social About HR

I started blogging in 2002. I designed a social talent network in 2007. I launched a social recruiting game in 2011. It's fair to say--I love to be social. But what I really love is thinking about new ways to connect people in the talent stream.  My personal brandline has always been: "where business meets behavior."  So thanks Huffington Post for including me in the Top 100 Most Social HR experts.  My goal is to get people who aren't in HR to listen. Entrepreneurs, founders, startup leadership teams, operations leaders: I'm talking to you. Care about the role people play in your business? Go follow this great list of folks.



Where Business Meets Behavior

Earlier in my career, I tried to explain my fascination with work to people. I started working at 14 and had more jobs by 22 than most people have their entire lives. I blame my parents, partly.  They made the mistake of teaching me the value of hard work. What I started to understand--as I moved from lifeguard to customer service representative to telemarketer--that the success of the work we do is based on how we behave and interact with each other. 'Where Business Meets Behavior' became my personal tagline but I've been struggling to describe why I live at that intersection for many years.  Purzue recently gave me the chance to share my obsession with all things talent.  Here's an excerpt:

Purzue: Many businesses search for the perfect candidate. How important is workforce diversification?

Susan: Once you know a candidate can fit the role and is a fit for the culture you want to consider the differences they bring. This is my perspective on diversity–what uniquenesses can a candidate add to the company, the workforce and the team once they demonstrate fit.  Specifically, companies should focus on diversity of thought and perspective, diversity in behaviors–how a candidate gets work done, and a diversity of experience across industries. Some companies are so focused on hiring from competitors rather than recognizing they can often learn more and diversify the thought process by thinking outside their industry and competitive set. There’s no perfect candidate. It’s who is right at this point in time and how can we find those people.

You can read the full interview here.



Covering Talent Issues: A Reporter's Perspective

I sit on the Board of our local talent acquisition non-profit group, RecruitDC. And since the inception, we’ve been lucky enough to have exceptional keynote speakers at each of our sell-out conferences. This year, with so many economic and government factors affecting our local talent landscape, we’re taking a different approach. Washington Post reporter Sarah Halzack will lead a panel of executive HR leaders to address some of these issues.  Halzack, a Capital Business Reporter and Web Editor for the Post, has a unique perspective on the area’s talent market. In advance of RecruitDC’s May 23rd Spring Conference, I sat down with her to talk talent, reporting and her own unique job.

Susan LaMotte: How did you land at The Washington Post? And tell us a little bit about your beat and the topics you cover?

Sarah Halzack: During my senior year at George Washington University, I worked as a research assistant for Laura Sessions Stepp, a journalist who was then working at the Washington Post and was in the process of writing a book.  When I graduated, she pointed me to apply for a job at the Post as a news aide, our most entry-level position. At that point, I was still somewhat unsure about what I wanted to do for my career; I had majored in journalism, but had only done internships in media relations. But as soon as I began working in the newsroom, I knew that I was exactly where I wanted to be.  I loved the energy of the place and I loved being surrounded by such bright and curious people. Currently, I am a reporter and Web editor with our Capital Business publication. I cover employment and workplace topics. That includes anything from how the labor market looks and what it says about the broader health of the regional economy to more HR-specific topics such as talent attraction and retention, compensation and benefits/rewards.

SL: I’m so glad the Post continues to dig into these topics especially since we spend so much time talking about politics in DC. Now, business journalism isn't as contentious as politics, but what have you learned about staying objective?

SH: Fairness is at the core of what we do in any department of the newsroom. I think the best way to achieve it is by thinking about a story from all 360 degrees and making sure you’ve been thoughtful and deliberate about what information you’ve included, what sources you’ve talked to, and whether you’ve given all the stakeholders a fair chance to comment. And I think it’s helpful to not make assumptions in reporting.  That helps ensure that you arrive at the most objective framework for your story.

SL: I think that’s good advice for business leaders too. We tend to have preconceived notions about solutions or even who to hire for a specific role! The 360-degree approach is something we could surely learn from. From the reporting you’ve done for the Post, what are some of the business trends you're seeing in our market?

SH: As we noted in the most recent edition of Post 200 (The Washington Post's annual report on the area's top businesses), it seems that many of the biggest businesses in the Washington region got a little bit smaller last year That manifested in different ways: Some shrunk real estate footprints, some reduced headcount, and others spun off business verticals. And so it seems that this year will be about adjusting and adapting to those consequential changes.  As for the local job market, the unemployment rate is ticking down slowly.  However, we are not adding jobs in the professional services sector at a fast enough pace to rev the engine of economic recovery.  Lately, our biggest job creators have been the health-care industry and the hospitality industry.  However, these are sectors that don’t tend to pay especially well, so that could weigh on income growth in this region.

SL: As part of preparing this year's Post 200, you talked about talent as a primary issue for many CEOs. What particular concerns and challenges do you find them to be facing right now?

SH: As I talk to folks in the local talent industry, a few themes emerge.  Some say that talent retention is a difficulty, particularly amid this climate of tightened budgets that might not allow as much room for compensation increases.  I also hear often that certain jobs remain hard to fill because they can’t find workers with the right skill set.  I’ve heard of and reported on lots of different ways of dealing with this—building talent pipelines with local colleges, creating internal training programs, or recruiting from unexpected places. For example, I reported last year on Merrill Lynch’s Washington office and how they are recruiting veterans, accountants and lawyers to work as financial advisers. In another story, I wrote about how Vocus was hiring a food truck for a day and giving out free pizza to lure people to apply for jobs. In other words, it seems many talent professionals are looking for outside-the-box ways to get the best people to come to their organization.

SL: There has been a great deal of conversation in our industry about a talent shortage versus a shortage of certain skills. But that’s just one of many key topics we’re talking about right now. It’s a crowded platform of challenges and I know we’ll delve into then for our panel.  Now, like many journalists, I'm sure story ideas are constantly crowding your mind. What do you do outside of work to clear your head?

SH: I perform with a professional contemporary dance company called Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co.  We rehearse in the evenings and on weekends and perform throughout the Washington area.  It feels great to get up and do something physical after being behind a desk all day!  And dance calls for a different type of creativity than I use as a journalist, so that is refreshing as well.  I’m also a big fan of yoga. 

SL: Me too. We lead such crowded lives I find yoga a great way to eliminate all that noise if only for a hour.  And with all that you do, we appreciate you taking the time to join us at RecruitDC.  We look forward to hosting you and our panelists on May 23: 

-       Melody Jones, Chief Administrative Officer, CEB

-       Angela Mannino, SVP Human Resources, Inova Health System

-       Jeff Perkins, Chief People Officer, NPR

-       Bridgette Weitzel, Vice President, Organization Development & Chief Talent Officer, BAE Systems North America





Why You Should Care About Candidate Experience

We're marketers. That's what we are. Talent acquisition is about promoting opportunities. Driving brand loyalty. Evaluating customer sentiment. Participating in the conversation about our brand. Whether you like it or not, if your game is talent, your playing field is strangely similar to a marketer's. And that because it's all about the experience. Ever find yourself running to post a review on Yelp, TripAdvisor or OpenTable? And when you do--you're always talking about the experience. That's why marketers live to transform the brand experience. It's an operational exercise.  You want to look at every step of the process, get feedback and then look at it again. You want to think big too--how does the experience make the customer think and feel? Would they come again? Is there loyalty there? Would they recommend you to a friend?  Marketers live, eat and breathe all of these things. And so should talent acquisition leaders.

Enter the Candidate Experience Awards. Designed to showcase companies delivering the best in the experience job candidates receive, the Candidate Experience Awards provide insight into an often overlooked part of the talent process--the experience.

I'm lucky to be joining a great collection of HR professionals as part of this year's Candidate Experience Council.  As the Council elevates the importance of candidate experience, we'll be encouraging your organization to apply--because get this--it's not about the award. It's about the experience. "The CandE Award process is a competition, but it is also designed to provide every organization that chooses to participate confidential and specific feedback on how they can improve their candidate experience." Winner or not, you'll get valuable feedback you can't always attain from inside the organization.

Whether you're hearing about this for the first time, or sighing and thinking "Is this really worth my while?" We say yes. Want to know more? Ask me or any of these fine folks joining me on the Council:



Memo to Executives: Women Don't Want It All

There are a million voices in the debate on women in the workplace. And I was reticent to add another. But there's a perspective no one is talking about and that's the work. Until the work changes, the ratio of women in leadership positions won't change.  My latest post in Forbes addresses just that. What if women don't want it all? What if it's not about promoting us but rather whether we even want it? This is an important conversation. I'd love your take. Check out the Forbes article and then share your perspective.



How NOT to Get a New Job

Here at exaqueo, we take on a few career coaching clients each month. And inevitably, some cringe when they realize how much hard work is required for a successful job search.  Every once in a while we have to really be clear---and sarcasm does the trick.  Check out my latest post on Forbes: How Not to Get a New Job in 2013. If this doesn't make an impression on your favorite lazy job-seeker, nothing will!



Job Search Advice You Can't Miss From Twitter + NPR

It's that time of the year--THE busiest time for job searching. If you're a job seeker, this is your Super Bowl, your Miss America, your World Cup. And just in time for your big, mecca moment, NPR and Twitter have pulled together a team of experts (including me!) to help you with your search. In addition to recruiters and hiring managers from both companies, I'll be joining the panel along with career and job search experts including Craig Fisher, Alexandra Levit, Curtis Midkiff and Laurie Ruettimann. We'll all be answering YOUR questions about job searching and sharing our tips.

How's this working?

The chat will be one hour, co-moderated by the @NPRjobs account and Twitter’s @JoinTheFlock.

How can I ask a question?

Submit your questions (starting NOW!) anytime before Friday, January 25 using the #NPRTwitterChat hashtag. We'll tackle as many as we can.

Can anyone join?

Yep. And you can help us promote it too. Try this tweet: "Career advice from Twitter, NPR, @SusanLaMotte @lruettimann @fishdogs @levit @SHRMSMG: 1/31, 5-6p ET, Ask ?s now: #NPRTwitterChat."